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Albany's Townsend, Alabama ready for CWS run

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

CLEMSON, S.C. -- In his wildest imagination, Jason Townsend never dreamed he would tell a big league team to wait.

But then again, Townsend never imagined anything like this.

Townsend, a kid who just three years ago was tossing curve balls at Sherwood Christian Academy, is in the middle of the wildest ride of his life.

"It's been unreal,'' Townsend told The Herald on Friday afternoon.

Or maybe just too real to believe.

Just a few weeks ago, Townsend was sitting in Alabama's bullpen, unsure of his future and the future of 'Bama's baseball team, which didn't look like it would even make it into the SEC Tournament.

Don't look now, but the Tide (41-23) are getting ready to meet Clemson (41-22) at 6 tonight in the Super Regional with a berth to the College World Series on the line.

And as Townsend prepares for the biggest series of his life, he has to weigh whether he wants to skip his senior year and sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who drafted him in the 31st round Wednesday.

One pitch at a time. That's the way Townsend, who is juggling Tigers and Pirates, sees it. He has already talked to Pittsburgh, and is ready for Clemson.

"I talked to the Pirates scout who drafted me and he said not to worry about it,'' Townsend said. "He said to just focus on what you have at hand, and after it's done then we will negotiate.''

The dominoes have been falling Townsend's way for a while now. Just look at 'Bama's mad rush to get into the postseason. The Tide were all but out of the SEC Tournament, which takes the top eight teams, and had to win five of its final six games just to make it to the postseason.

"A few weeks ago we didn't know if we were going to make it to the SEC Tournament, but we got hot, -- real hot,'' Townsend said.

'Bama might just be the hottest team in the nation. The Tide took two-of-three against Ole Miss and then had to sweep Tennessee in the final series of the season. Done, and done. Then Alabama, the seventh seed, made it to the SEC title game against LSU and was invited into the NCAA Tournament.

One problem: Alabama had to go to Atlanta and play in the Georgia Tech Regional. The Tide looked doomed when Tech, which was ranked No. 8 in the nation, beat them early, sending Alabama to the consolation bracket. But 'Bama bounced back and beat Tech twice to win the regional.

They are 12-2 down the stretch.

"Our coach told us, 'This is it,' before those last six games in the season. Our backs were against the wall,'' Townsend said. "We had to win. He told us: 'Don't do anything special, just play hard every inning.' "

They did.

"When we beat Tennessee and got in the (SEC Tournament), it felt like we all came together,'' Townsend said. "We got our confidence back and had a little swag to us. Once we swept Tennessee, it felt like we could play good for the rest of the season.''

Then came the dramatic comeback against Tech. 'Bama won the final two games, 8-1 and 10-8 to capture the regional title.

"It's something I'll never forget,'' Townsend said. "I think we played the best ball we played all year against Tech. Everyone had Tech to win the regional. I think we were the only ones who believed in us.''

That series also rekindled an old friendship, because Townsend and Tech third baseman Thomas Nichols, a Deerfield-Windsor grad, were old friends from the diamonds in Albany.

It's been a season of adjustment for Townsend, who was a starting pitcher his whole career at Sherwood and at Chipola Community College, before coming to Alabama this year.

"It's been different,'' he said. "I've always been a starter. Being a starter you know how to prepare your body and how to get ready from game to game. Now you have to get ready in a hurry and get warmed up. It took a little while to make the adjustment.''

Townsend is 2-1 with a 6.25 ERA, but he has had his strikeout pitch all year, fanning 36 batters in 36 innings. Right now he doesn't care when or where he pitches.

"It doesn't matter, starter, closer, bullpen,'' he said. "You just want to do anything you can do to help the team win. Everyone is so excited. We've got a chance if we win to go to Omaha and the College World Series. To have a chance to do that would be unforgettable.''

The whole Townsend clan will be in Clemson tonight. Townsend's parents, Barry and Teresa, and his sister, Brittany, have made the trip along with his grandparents.

"I've been getting texts and phone calls all week from friends in Albany,'' Townsend said. "Everything has been happening (with the team and the draft). I think we have a good chance to beat Clemson. I know they are a good team, but we have a lot of confidence right now. I think we have a good chance of going to the World Series.''

Why not? Everything else has been going right for Townsend and Alabama.

"That would blow my mind,'' Townsend said. "I never thought a month ago that going to the World Series would be an option. Look at us now.

"It's been a crazy couple of weeks.''